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3Com rolls the dice on OSN

Can Open Services Networking (OSN) lead the company to an unexpected comeback? Analysts and at least one VAR think it may just be in the cards

3Com Corp.’s open approach to networking has attracted some interest, but the jury is still out on whether it will help the company make some headway against networking market leader Cisco Systems Inc.But 3Com isn’t counting solely on its new Open Services Networking (OSN) initiative to build momentum in Canada. The company will soon hire a new Canadian country manager and start treating Canada like a separate national market again after several years of running its Canadian operations like a region of the United States.

“I am actively very involved in a search for a Canadian country manager,” said Nick Tidd, 3Com’s vice-president of worldwide channel sales, who occupied that post himself until a few years ago and since then has overseen 3Com’s Canadian operations from his new role at corporate headquarters in Marlborough, Mass.

Tidd said 3Com needs to improve its presence in Canada and expects to make an announcement very soon.

Power play
That should please Patrick Power, managing partner of Toronto-based reseller OAM Computer Group, which handles 3Com products along with those of Cisco and others. “We’ve been fairly self-sufficient in terms of how we work with 3Com, so the presence is less of an impact on our company than perhaps some others,” Power said. “But at the end of the day, clearly we’d like to see more presence and more resources available to us locally.”

In the meantime, 3Com’s worldwide hopes are pinned on OSN, a plan to allow Linux-based applications from third-party vendors, as well as 3Com’s own, to run on the networking vendor’s routers. 3Com announced OSN in late January along with its Open Network Technology Program, through which it will provide other developers with the tools to build on OSN. Initial partners include VMWare, Inc., Q1 Labs Inc., Vericept Corp., and Converged Access, Inc.

Edgar Masri, 3Com’s president and CEO, said a significant focus of 3Com’s technology strategy revolves around leveraging best-of-breed technology and open source applications to differentiate the company’s networking solutions through innovation.

“OSN represents the foundation for that strategy and our future initiatives,” Masri said, in a prepared statement. OSN combines 3Com’s vision for next-generation networking solutions with H3C’s R&D and manufacturing capabilities. Masri added that OSN has the ability to drive a significant change in the networking landscape towards open, flexible multi-vendor integration.

The first OSN product is an add-on module for 3Com Router 6000 line to run partners’ applications. Those applications include virtual server capabilities from VMWare and a data and voice traffic optimization tools from Converged Access.

Also on the horizon
OSN is a good idea, but its success depends heavily on 3Com’s ability to attract third-party vendors to the partner program, said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of enterprise infrastructure at research firm Yankee Group Inc., in Boston.
“If 3Com is going to turn around and they’re going to find some kind of differentiator,” said Kerravala, “it has to be something radically different from what the industry has.” OSN is a sound concept, he said, and if 3Com can attract enough developers, it could establish the company as a solid No. 2 in networking behind Cisco.

The open approach contrasts with Cisco’s ISR, which also uses Linux but supports only applications developed by Cisco itself.

Power praised the open approach. “I think the closer you get to toward open systems, the better off everyone is,” he said.

Marc Perrella, vice-president of the technology group at research firm International Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. in Toronto, said encouraging third-party development makes sense “because 3Com does not have resources to acquire or integrate other technology as does a Juniper or a Cisco.”

“We realize that there’s very good third-party developers out there, and we’re going to give them a conduit to get to market,” Tidd said.

Tidd said response to the partner program has been strong so far, and 3Com is aiming to sign up more than 100 third-party developers under the ON program by the end of this year.

The ON program members receive development tools to create applications, labs to conduct product testing that will provide members with 3Com validation of product interoperability, 3Com and solution directory listing on the new ON Web site, visibility into 3Com’s product strategy and roadmaps, global marketing, business development and technical support for finding new business opportunities, and access to 3Com’s resellers through integration of the ON program with the 3Com Focus Reseller Program.

Kerravala predicted 3Com will need about two years to build the program. “A partnership program doesn’t grow overnight.” Much will depend on whether 3Com management has the patience to give the program that sort of time to develop, he said, adding that “from what I’ve seen of the new management team it looks like they do.”

What also remains to be seen, Perrella said, is whether customers and the channel will see the value of the OSN approach.

Power said an open approach should benefit resellers and integrators, who often must bring together technology from different vendors to meet a customer’s needs.

He added that 3Com shouldn’t tackle Cisco head-on. “I’ve always said 3Com should focus hard on where they’re strong, which is the (small and medium business) market space,” he said.

Tidd agreed. “Our success is primarily in the middle to small enterprise,” he said.